Sunday, December 26, 2010

Full Mental Jack

The internet has no shortage of armchair theoreticians examining the subtextual undercurrents of Stanley Kubrick films. I'm but one of many, but I'm the least dogmatic one I know; most of the leading Kubrick online "experts" have a tendency to indulge in wild speculation out of left field, then insist that their interpretation is absolutely right. Do a little digging and you'll find whole clusters of internet assholes arguing bitterly about what Kubrick really must have meant in his films, like medieval monks fighting over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

But Kubrick wasn't supporting any of these guys' interpretations when he was alive, and he sure isn't supporting them now.

I merely present these disassociated fragments for what they are: puzzling evidence from Full Metal Jacket. What do you make of this, Professor?

* Satan. According to several online sources, the Vietnamese phrase "TIếP TụC PHụNG Sự QUỷ NGÀI" seen on a building during a battle scene, means "To continuously serve Satan, your excellency." Given that there's already been some conspiratorial rumblings about Kubrick's fascination with Satanism, this would seem to be a wakeup call to assess Full Metal Jacket with the same scrutiny as The Shining, even though on the face of it the film appears to be a completely normal war flick, even by Kubrick standards.

In an early draft of Kubrick's script, Hartman says, "Have you seen the light? The white light? The great light? The guiding light? Do you have the vision?" And as you should already know, Lucifer is known as "the light bringer".

Further occult symbolism appears throughout the film, but one of my favorites is the scene where the men are all standing like religious statues out of ancient Egypt, ostensibly for the purpose of having their fingernails examined.

* Changing directions. One of the oddest things about the film is its unconventional plot structure. For the first third of it, the stars of the movie are Private Pyle and Gunnery Sgt. Hartman, and the plot is solely concerned with Pyle's torment by Hartman through basic training. Then something very strange happens: both these main characters die, and the movie takes a hard left turn into following Joker and a newly-added character, Rafterman, into battle.

This theme of "changing direction" pervades the film. Cowboy even says it aloud: "okay, listen up, we're changing direction." In that same scene, there's a shot where Doc Jay is seemingly dragging Eightball's body in the wrong direction, and if you take the time to obsessively map out the line-of-fire trajectory of the female sniper's shots, you'll find that none of it makes internal sense. And if we can claim to know one thing about Kubrick, it's that he was obsessive about such details - so even if something looks like a grievous continuity error, it isn't.

A sign reading "TÂM PHƯƠNG" reportedly translates as "center direction".

* John F. Kennedy. Collative Learning suggests the way the sniper scene was filmed with impossible shots is meant to indicate a subliminal commentary on the Kennedy assassination, and its "magic bullet" that impossibly changes direction. That Hartman mentions JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald earlier in the film, and that Cowboy is from Texas, also supposedly is connected to this. There's a lot of smoke there, but there's some fire.

To this end, I would also note that the magician rabbit stuffed animal that turns out to be a booby-trap could be a reference both to the "trickster rabbit" archetype, which, as we have already examined here, has parallels with Lee Harvey "Ozzie Rabbit" Oswald.

* The Shining. Parallels with The Shining are found aplenty here. Compare the bathroom scenes in both films. Note that subtle placement of images of Snoopy and Mickey Mouse appear in both. And speaking of the "trickster rabbit" archetype again, remember the Bugs Bunny thread running through The Shining. Also note the "indigenous people" subtext of both films (and in FMJ, there's even a scene where a giant graphic of a Native American appears behind Joker's shoulder)

And most important of all, note how Pyle's face begins to morph impossibly into Jack Torrance's, shortly before he puts his rifle in his mouth and commits suicide. (Remember in The Shining when Ullman mentions that the 1970 Grady did exactly the same thing?)

Is Pyle, in fact, demonically possessed? He certainly looks like it. And when he says "I am in a world of shit", it could be another subtle Kubrick joke (he is, after all, in the restroom and his name is Pyle) but it could also mean that he is in literally in Hell. Note that Hartman uses the same phrase earlier, when he instructs the men that Marines are not allowed to die, and when they do they end up in "a world of shit." At the film's end, the phrase appears for a third time. Joker walks through a hell-like landscape of fire as he acknowledges that he too is now "in a world of shit."

* Unreality. And just like in The Shining, things keep moving around, shifting, changing. Bullet holes disappear and reappear. Buildings change position. A burning Monolith-like structure comes and goes on the battlefield. And Pyle himself impossibly changes his place in line in the film's opening sweep past each of the men. We clearly see him in one place, then he's suddenly in the opposite corner of the room just seconds later.

Consider the notion that these men are actually in a literal netherworld, a purgatory, a Hell: there are a few indicators that maybe none of this real and is only a dream (which is a theory some have applied to The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut as well). When Hartman discovers that Pyle has gone insane, he shouts, "what are you animals doing in my head?"... "Head" being military jargon for toilet, of course. And just prior to this scene, Joker shines his flashlight on Hartman's name and then the word "Head" on the other door, very slowly to make sure we get it.

Perhaps the film should be best summed up by Cowboy's comment to Pyle after they beat him in the middle of an eerie blue-light-tinged night: "Remember, it's just a bad dream."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Temporarily Light

After my previous musings on just what the hell is going on in Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining, I offer some further random thoughts and observations:

If Danny began to channel "Tony" in Nursery School, right about the time he was injured by Jack, that would place his age at around 3 or 4. But Wendy says that right after the incident, Jack gave up drinking and hasn't had a drink in 5 months.

How can the incident have been only 5 months ago? That makes no sense. Danny is clearly about 7 years old. There's no way this child can be only 5 months out of Nursery School. And if it's been only 5 months since his arm was pulled out of its socket, I think he would still be recovering from that.

One way to look at it is to assume that Wendy is simply lying to cover Jack's ass, but she's obviously not doing a very good job and she can't get her story straight. And when she lights her cigarette, note how her hand is trembling with theatrical nervousness. But why would she even admit to the incident and bring it up in the first place?

Consider when Jack is seated at the bar and confesses of the arm-dislocation incident to Lloyd, he speaks of it as being three years ago. And yet, he also reiterates Wendy's confused timeline about having given up alcohol 5 months ago. From this, we may infer that Jack has actually harmed Danny more than once.

Clearly, the timespace dilation that is causing discrepancies throughout the events of the film is also at play here. I think by the point Jack is drinking at the bar, he has his feet in two different points in time, perhaps even two different universes. It may be that one of these incidents he speaks of was actually committed in a previous life.

The case of Grady and his two daughters is similarly puzzling. We're told at first by Ullman that a man named Charles Grady killed his wife and two daughters with an axe in 1970. But most people who watch The Shining never even notice that when we think we're meeting him as a butler who spills Advocaat on Jack, we're actually meeting Delbert Grady, who cannot be the same man as Charles. Delbert is part of the 1921 crowd who manifest to Jack repeatedly, and is theoretically the father of the two twin girls in Alice in Wonderland-like dresses look like they're from that time period. So we have two different men named Grady who axed their families - one in 1921 and one in 1970.

Actually, we may have three different incidents, because the newspaper article that Jack reads in the Overlook Hotel scrapbook he finds (you can see it in the foreground beside his typewriter in the scene when he's telling Wendy not to interrupt his writing) says that Delbert Grady hacked them up "into little pieces" with the ax. But as Danny sees in the apparition of the twin girls in blue, they are fully intact, though dead from abdominal wounds. And consider that Ullman already told us that Charles Grady didn't leave his victims laying out in a hallway, he "stacked them neatly in one of the rooms". So what the heck?

Is this related, then, to the reason why two, possibly three, different naked women appear in the bathroom of Room 237? (One young, one old, and then there's seemingly a variant old one with shorter hair.)

With any other director - even Hitchcock - I would chalk these matters up to carelessness, sloppiness, and mere continuity errors. But we all know that Stanley Kubrick, the greatest obsessive-compulsive control freak in the history of motion pictures, left absolutely no detail thoroughly unresearched and exercised fanatical control over the placement of every word spoken and every picture hung. The man spent over a year picking out drapes and carpeting for this film; it's no wonder he only made a handful of films after "Spartacus".

Another sign of timespace dilation: watch when Jack walks down the hallway towards the Gold Room after Wendy accuses him of strangling Danny. Right after he says "me??" to himself, we can see his reflection appear on a mirror on the left hand side. Moments later, as he walks on, his reflection appears again in a second mirror, but not the third. If you watch this scene over and over - pause it at the reflection moments to study it closely - you can see that it is not possible for Jack's reflection to appear in those mirrors at the points that they do. I don't even know how Kubrick did the shot, unless there are some well placed mirrors hovering from the dolly as it rolls backward to film the shot. And when Wendy rolls the dining tray down the same hallway earlier in the film, there are no such impossible reflections.

Jack's hair and his typewriter both change color in the course of the film.

Does all of this mean anything, or is Kubrick just messing with us? Both, maybe.

The Satanic undercurrent in the film - which goes over the heads of most casual viewers - is practically shouted from the rootops. Jack's Baphomet pose in the photograph at film's end; his reference to his "employers" and the "contract" he signed with them, which would jeopardize his future if broken; Lloyd's hints that they are in either in hell, purgatory, or some sort of timespace-limbo where "your money is no good here"... and don't forget Lloyd's ominous reference to "the house".

Jack seems to be entering this world more and more as the movie progresses. Whereas only Lloyd manifests to him in his first bar sighting, the entire ballroom and all its patrons appear to him the second time. And these people are real, not spectral ghosts - real enough that Grady can spill Advocaat all over Jack, help him wipe it off, and then unlock the door of the storeroom to let him out. Tony and Hallorann's false assurance that these people aren't real indicates that they don't know everything that's happening here.

The Advocaat that Grady spills, by the way, is surely one of Kubrick's little jokes that he inserts into his films. Since this is apparently Satan's hotel, and the drinks come "from the house", then what Grady is bearing is "the Devil's Advocaat". Get it?

Advocaat, by the way, is a liqueur made from eggs, and eggs are well known as a symbol for the soul (as referenced by another cinema Satan in the film "Angel Heart".) Eggs also appear when Jack is eating them sunny-side-up while staring at his own reflection in bed.

Finally, I think it's interesting to note that Jack's Volkswagen in the original book was red, and Kubrick changed it to an egg-yolk yellow (the same color as Kubrick's typewriter from which all of this was conjured). And if you look closely at the car wreck that Hallorann slows down to observe as he makes his way in the Snowcat, a red Volkswagen has been totalled by an overturned semi-truck. Is this, as some have joked, Kubrick's little "fuck you" to Stephen King (who was unhappy with all the changes he made to his story)? Or is it meant to suggest that we're seeing a momentary convergence of parallel universes, and that this is literally the book version of Jack, Wendy and Danny?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don César de Bazan

Who the heck was Don César de Bazan?

As a character, he first appeared in the Victor Hugo play Ruy Blas in 1838. For some reason, this side character became the star of a play titled Don César de Bazan by Adolphe d'Ennery and in a different production also called Don César de Bazan by Jules Massenet. And finally, from that opera came another, grander one called Maritana which then became the standard-bearer for the Don Cesar story.

A man named Thomas Rowe (the same guy as the Australian architect? I'm not sure) was so obsessed with Maritana that he built Florida's Don CeSar palace in its honor.

But why all this fixation about this Don Cesar guy? Was he a real person? How did this side-character from a failed Victor Hugo play end up having such a lasting reverberation through the 19th and early 20th centuries? It's like if a whole theatrical cult of Mercutio had splintered off into a life of its own - which maybe, some say, Shakespeare in fact did by pinching him from The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet.

(Photo above: cigar box illustration promoting Maritana.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Arsenic Factor

Some citizens are astonishingly blasé about it, but the announcement made today by NASA is nothing short of explosive. A new form of bacteria discovered in California's Mono Lake - called GFAJ-1 - has a different DNA structure than any life form ever known to exist on Earth, and ever thought possible.

This new form of bacteria replaces phosphorus at the DNA level with arsenic, and as C-Net notes:

That would distinguish it from every other form of life known to man, all of which, no matter how diverse, is comprised of the same six elements, phosphorus, sulfur, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. But the bacteria found in Mono Lake--which is known for its unusual chemistry, including very high levels of salinity, alkalinity, and arsenic--is made partly of arsenic, and has no phosphorus in its DNA.

This puts a new slant on everything.

Now that we can throw out the long-held tenet that all life in the Universe is made of the same six components, we have to start all over again in our examination of planets, exoplanets, moons, asteroids, comets and what-have-you, and reassess the possibility of life on them. Jupiter, for example, has an abundance of arsenic in its composition. Until today, the official scientific party line would have been that life as we know it could never exist there. And now, it could be possible that something like GFAJ-1 could thrive in pockets of Jovian arsenic.

And it doesn't stop at arsenic. The floodgates are open now to argue that other combinations of elements could conceivably make up new kinds of DNA that most scientists hadn't even imagined until now. (Of course, Star Trek had it right back in 1966 when they posited life based on other elements instead of carbon.)

My question is, how did this bizarre new bacteria manage to survive in Mono Lake without being noticed up till now? Is the possibility not a large one that it got here extraterrestrially via a meteorite or something?